Losing a child is a tragedy no parent should ever have to endure. While there are few words and even fewer comforts to be offered to those who have experienced such a loss, the team at The Compassionate Friends is doing its best to be there in the face of the unthinkable.
Sandra Harrison experienced such a loss on her wedding anniversary when her son, 26-year-old Cory Trevor Harrison, was fatally hit by a drunk driver. Though she wasn’t alone in her grief, Sandra realized that facing such a tragedy requires a community. It wasn’t until after the loss of Cory that she found The Compassionate Friends, a foundation that offers a sense of togetherness and self-help options for grieving families in need.
Since discovering the group, Sandra found a partnership and a focused purpose, within her community, all driven by The Compassionate Friends’ cause. While The Compassionate Friends, open to anyone who has lost a child, grandchild or sibling, offers self-help options to everyone near and far, it takes enough interest in one location to build a local chapter.
After three separate families contacted the organization, the Bay County, Florida chapter was founded in January 2015. Since then, the group meets every second Monday of each month. With the current pandemic, the chapter meets on a scheduled Zoom call.
The mother and grandmother will be stepping in as chapter leader of her local group in July. In the meantime, she’s shifted her focus to a memorial garden to honor her son and other children lost. With the help of local government and the other members of her chapter, including the current chapter leader, Carol Ladouceur, Sandra and other chapter members are now building the Children’s Memorial Garden.
“I don’t like going to my son’s grave,” she says. “I want to go where it’s uplifting.”
Sandra wants to help offer her community a comforting and peaceful place to go where they can honor their loved ones without the negative connotations of a graveyard. Rather than feeling surrounded by death, Sandra and her community’s organization wants to offer a place that can be a celebration of life for her lost son and the lost family members of her community.
Their bid for the garden was enthusiastically backed by local city commissioners of Lynn Haven, Florida, and other chapter members. Some families went together on benches for their loved ones, while others opted to sponsor trees, bushes and other greenery to adorn the garden. There will be cenotaph walls that will be covered in bronze plaques – a place where anyone who has lost a child, grandchild or sibling can pay to have them memorialized.
As a non-profit, the Bay County chapter had to be clever about how to go about the creation of their garden. Purchases of plaques and charitable donations go directly to the creation and upkeep of their garden. There will be a fountain for the garden, offering an added level of tranquility for those who come to honor their lost loved ones.
The Children’s Memorial Garden was set to be completed in June 2020 with a dedication. A Walk to Remember was scheduled for May 30, 2020. Anyone can donate directly via Venmo*. Sandra has devoted a large amount of her time to the project, and looks forward to seeing the garden and fountain completed. She noted that the setting – about 1000 feet from North Bay – couldn’t be any better, and hopes that others will find it as peaceful as she does.
After being founded in England over 50 years ago, The Compassionate Friends has since expanded operations in the United States. The group works in chapters, and as of today has over 600 chapters in all 50 states, Washington D.C, Puerto Rico and Guam. The Compassionate Friends’ mission statement states that “when a child dies, at any age, the family suffers intense pain and may feel hopeless and isolated. The Compassionate Friends provides highly personal comfort, hope, and support to every family experiencing the death of a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, or a grandchild, and helps others better assist the grieving family.”
Sandra Harrison and her Bay County chapter are living up to that mission in spades with their current project. No one ever wants to experience loss, particularly that of a child, but the love of a supportive group and community, such as Sandra’s, proves that love can sometimes mitigate grief and shore the bereaved up when the unthinkable happens.
*To donate to the Children’s Memorial Garden, search for “Children’s Memorial Garden” on the Venmo app. Donations can be made there.
Patrick Hagler, Esq., Alliant National State
Counsel-Georgia, walks the streets of Atlanta handing out blankets, hygiene
kits, and gloves to any and all homeless teenagers he comes across. Doing so
has been his mission and passion for over five years.
Not only does he not ever see himself
stopping this philanthropic effort, he has 2020 plans to start his own
non-profit 501(c)(3) in order to broaden the scope of recipients to include
everyone–women, children, and men of all ages. “I
started volunteering with the group Lost and Found Youth in
Atlanta five years ago,” he says. “The
organization provides counseling and services to homeless youth and young
adults in the Atlanta area and surrounding region. I also work their 24-hour
hotline. Kids need a place to go, to find a meal, and this is an effort that
helps them do that.”
Patrick do it?
Patrick does it because he cannot help himself. “Doing street outreach with Lost and Found Youth and seeing all the people living on the streets affected me deeply and broke my heart,” he says. “You see these people, human beings, with sullen faces and desperate eyes just looking for some compassion. When it is cold in the winter and brutally hot in the summers, giving my time and spreading some love, human touch, compassion and hope is the least we can offer.”
might wonder if Patrick ever felt threatened or if he ever found himself in a
dangerous situation. In the five years Patrick’s been working the streets, he’s
never been afraid. “Most people I have encountered welcome the support and
only take what they need,” he says. “I have gone into places with
some reservation, sure. But showing people you are there to help and just
providing some compassion, well, any fears subside. They are living human
beings that are down on their luck.”
What began as a simple helping effort, has morphed into Patrick soliciting donations from friends and family. Those efforts now make his second bedroom a sort of ad hoc stock room. The outpouring of support from the Facebook page he currently keeps up, has been one of his biggest surprises (Loving Hands of Hope @Haglers
“I began collecting money and then
collecting hygiene kits,” he says. “We began hitting the streets,
looking for kids in different locations where they typically stay.
“What I found so often, especially when
it’s cold,” he adds, “is that the men typically defer to the women
and children so they get into shelters first. Literally everyone is out there.
“Today I have a spare room and two cars full of stuff,” he says. “And after reaching out to friends on Facebook, their friends now donate. Alliant National is also donating 150 hygiene kits. It all began as a way to give back and it’s slowly grown.”
Patrick hopes his planned, 2020 new
organization will continue to assist not only the youth and young adults that Lost
and Found Youth of Atlanta serves, but to all people who never thought they
would be on the streets. “One of the things I have found it that not all the people
that are homeless want to be there,” he says. “They are not all
deadbeats and drug addicts just living on the streets because that’s what they
planned for their life.
“We are all just one job loss or one bad
decision from being there ourselves,” says Patrick. “There is no
demographic for the homeless. They are simply trying to
Some of us have dogs. Maybe two. Cats? They’re
popular, also. But Julie Murphy, who has a combination of canines and felines,
also raises alpacas and llamas, all of which provide far greater benefits than
Julie, who is the administrative assistant to the executive team at Alliant National—and describes herself as the “lead fun-maker of office festivities”—co-owns Red Flower Ranch, a 10-acre plot just east of Mead, Colorado, with her husband. They—and their 12-year-old daughter, Sara, who was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis, Type 1 at 10 months old—live on the property, alongside two llamas and 13 alpacas, two dogs and three cats.
“Our name comes from a small flower on our farm,”
says Julie, recalling the first time she spotted a little red flower blooming in
a dry patch of dirt tucked in between a wall and some fencing. “It was the only
living thing for several feet around it, and we were amazed at its
determination to grow and thrive despite the huge odds against it,” says Julie.
“It reminded us of Sara and all she’s been through with Neurofibromatosis—and
all she has yet to face in the future. To us, it represents drive,
determination and the ability to thrive under any circumstance.”
It was Sara’s medical team, in fact, that
originally introduced the alpacas to the Murphy family. “We hadn’t been around
alpacas at all, but her doctors thought that because of the peace they exude by
simply being, they might be the kind of animals that our daughter would benefit
from,” says Julie.
A short time later, the family attended an
alpaca show to determine if the doctors were right.
“When we met the alpacas, we knew that these
were the animals for us,” remembers Julie. “We quickly realized that there
were many benefits to having them, including the fact that they’re great
therapy animals, thanks to their curious nature and calm demeanor.”
As an added bonus, shares Julie, “They grow the
most amazing fiber, which is considered by many to be the best natural fiber
available.” The result? Easygoing animals that would bond with Sara and a
successful alpaca business that would provide the Murphy family with a sense of
Since purchasing the property in the spring of
2013, Julie and her husband have spruced up the farm buildings, incorporated
multiple pastures and built several llama and alpaca pens. In November of 2016,
they started Red Flower Ranch.
“Our niche is that we have alpacas and llamas,
while most farms have horses, cows and other typical farm animals,” says
Julie, adding that the slogan of their ranch is “Colorado Raised & Made,” a
motto backed by a fierce dedication to selling products produced by their own
animals. “Unless I simply can’t avoid it, I don’t import fibers or materials
from other countries, like Peru or Chile,” stresses Julie, pointing out that very
few of her finished products are imported. “If they aren’t made by us, they’re made
in the USA. Our goal is to keep it local, kind of like farm-to-table, except
we’re more like ‘alpaca-to-hat.’”
Her other love, of course, is Sara, whose
genetic disease has resulted in tumors that grow inside her nervous system. The
disease can also cause bone deformities, blindness, deafness, cancer and other
Still, despite daily pain in her legs and hips,
bone deformities in her daughter’s pelvis and legs and numerous renal problems,
Julie remains optimistic. “While Sara’s had more than a dozen surgeries in
her lifetime and more hospitalizations than I care to think about, she’s a
happy girl and I thank God that I get to be her mom.”
Sara’s favorite alpaca is a black female named Midnight
Dancer. “Dancer and Sara have something special and love being together,” says
Julie, noting, too, that Sara participates in craft and livestock shows. “She
enjoys talking to people, especially other kids, about alpacas and answering
all their questions.”
While Sara’s disease is debilitating, the Murphy family has leaned on the Children’s Tumor Foundation—the world’s largest nonprofit currently funding neurofibromatosis research— for support and guidance.
“When Sara was diagnosed, there was no treatment
protocol and little research to advance a cure,” says Julie. “We still
don’t have a cure, but they’ve reached a point where some promising medications
and breakthroughs are on the horizon. I’m excited for the future and what
it will bring to help those suffering worldwide from Neurofibromatosis.”
The Children’s Tumor Foundation has been so
instrumental in Sara’s treatment that Julie donates a portion of each sale from
the ranch to the Foundation.
While they continue to search for treatments for
Sara’s disease, Julie lives in the moment and finds joy in the little things.
“My husband always says that when things get hard, there’s a whole lot of
upside potential. It reminds me that no matter how bad it is, it will get
better, and when it’s already good, it could turn out to be great.”
Julie’s dedication and work ethic—she performs office manager duties for Alliant National’s corporate office, functions as an event planner and works closely with the education team—extends far beyond her office walls.
She’s a warrior and her positive attitude and genuine compassion for others is palpable. “I’m so blessed to have an amazing and supportive husband and the greatest daughter anyone could ask for. She’s taught me what true strength really looks like and to have more patience than I ever thought myself capable of,” says Julie. “To top it off, I’ve been given the opportunity to raise amazing animals and help educate others about their benefits. I truly am living the American dream.”
Alliant National is thankful and proud to donate to an impactful organization that provides food and hope for new beginnings.
Staying within budget while exceeding expectations is a challenge for all event planners. But Alliant National’s Office of Fun & Festivities’ (OFF) members Julie Murphy and Rebecca Wenzel faced additional challenges while planning Alliant National’s holiday party: how to tie a meaningful contribution to our community into our holiday festivities.
After deliberating and researching viable options, the OFF team decided the holiday party would include hosting a food drive with proceeds going to Thrive Food Bank.
“We chose Thrive Food Bank because it serves a local, high-need population and is a well-organized food bank with a consistent positive impact on the local community,” Rebecca said.